The Queens in Whitley Bay was my happy home for three years , three years worth of cooked breakfasts every morning, three years of lager for tea, some may suspect that my confused eating habits for life were moulded during my time at The Queens, I don’t know, I was just enjoying myself too much.
Then came the fateful day.
The day, precisely six years after I had first been transferred to the North East when our head office suddenly realised that they hadn’t made all of the Leeds staff redundant six years previously, there was a survivor from the cull, and he was still living in a hotel in Whitley Bay and claiming on expenses for it every week, the cheeky bugger.
An edict was issued to my boss, “Tell him he’s a cheeky bugger” they said, “but the gravy train ends here, we’re not paying his hotel bills anymore”.
“Bollacks” thought I, and why not, I’d have still been living at The Queens on expenses even now, 30 years on, if some pedantic office clerk hadn’t spotted the mistake.
OK, so perhaps not at The Queens, being as its been boarded up these past three years, on the other hand with the income from me maybe they wouldn’t have had to close, anyhoo…
My boss gave me a wage rise to compensate for the loss of a cooked breakfast every morning and I wandered into the Northern Rock Building Society branch that was beneath our office and asked if they had any spare money they could lend me.
Back in 1982 The Northern Rock had money to lend to people like me, young, free and single, no expenses whatsoever other than beer, The Northern Rock were delighted to offer me a £9000 mortgage on a £9500 flat (or using todays trendy terminology, my “bijou apartment”), all I had to do was raise the other £500.
I borrowed it off my dad.
A few short weeks later I was the proud owner of the smallest flat you have ever imagined, no smaller than that, much smaller, go on, keep imagining, no its smaller still, really, this place was so small that you had to stand sideways to pass each other – in the living room.
A “Uni-Flat” it was called, intended for one person to live in, intended for only one person at a time to be inside of actually, it was like it had been custom fitted to me like a made to measure suit, my flat fitted me perfectly with no room for growing in to, no baggy corners, and definitely no space for another person to move in with me – if you can see the photo in the header of this here story, thats an actual photo of the actual block that I lived in, and there are six flats in the photo, yes you thought it was just one didn’t you.
It was on the top floor of a small block, an entrance from a communal walkway straight into a hallway that was actually too small to stand in, as soon as you stepped into the hallway you were technically stepping out of it again into the living room, when the postman had more than one letter to deliver he had to hold one back and bring it tomorrow instead for fear of filling the hallway with paper.
To the right of the hallway was the dingy-est bathroom you can imagine, it had one small window, one foot square up near the ceiling and no means of ventilation other than prising the window open, which opened up onto the communal walkway outside so that people standing on their tiptoes could look into your bathroom or alternatively stand under your window and listen to you sing in the shower.
Speaking of which, the shower was the oldest electric shower contraption I have ever seen, and I have never seen one like it since. It was spherical in shape with a red light on top to signify that it was switched on and despite using it for the two years that I inhabited the flat I never managed to get anything better than lukewarm water out of it, the heating element was just 100 watt, my shower was invented by an imbecile in the 1870’s.
From the hallway you stepped straight into the living-room-with-kitchen, an estate agents phrase for “this is all you get for your £9500″. The kitchen consisted of a space five feet by two feet, two cupboards, a sink and a cooker, and a big cupboard that held the cold and hot water cylinders, which frequently overflowed due to a sticking valve, my five by two kitchen flooring was replaced almost weekly from scraps of carpet salvaged from skips on my way home from the pub every Friday night.
One small step away from the kitchen counter was the living room, big enough for a pine settee from MFI, the most uncomfortable piece of furniture I have ever bought, and, erm, thats it, there was no form of heating at all so I had to buy an electric fire even though the bank account was by now down to red numbers (where it has stayed ever since) and the stereo system that I snaffled from my dads house simply stood on the floor next to the uncomfortable settee.
I eventually bought a small sheepskin rug which completely filled the space between settee and fire but then after I had foolishly decided to share my living space with a German Shepherd puppy (remember how she shat in the video player ?) she took a liking to the rug and used it as a toilet for a while so I had to throw it away.
A TV set and the unfortunate video recorder was hired from DER and squeezed into one corner of the room which just left enough space to edge sideways through a door into the bedroom where, still edging sideways, you could just about, with thin legs, make your way down the side of the bed and half open one of the wardrobe doors, there was more room inside the wardrobes than in the bedroom.
My first christmas in the flat was celebrated by the purchase of a huge, real christmas tree from the greengrocer near our office. I asked him to “keep a good one aside” for me and true to his word he did, it was nine foot high and much the same width at the bottom too, longer and wider than the Ford Fiesta I had at the time, a lot of folk got the fright of their life to see a huge tree making its own way sideways down the road as I drove home with it tied to the roof that night.
When I got it back to the flat I had to saw four feet off the bottom of it just to get it up the external staircase onto the shared walkway, and then another two foot to make it fit through my front door – two other grateful families benefited from my christmas tree purchase that year. When I had finally dragged it through the door into the living room I realised of course that there would be no compromise that year, it was the tree or the TV set for although they were stood in opposite corners of the room the TV set was still obscured by the christmas tree, I spent three weeks that christmas sitting inside a conifer wondering what would be on TV whilst raising a festive glass of whisky and pine needles, I know what life as a squirrel is like now.